Sunday, August 9, 2009

Singlish in comics

So i was pleasantly surprised when i was reading Birds of Prey, and came across Singlish; a variety of English used in Singapore. Representations of varieties of English are often limited to British/North American dialects, and seldom do one of the "New Englishes" appear in North American mainstream media (in my experience). So i was delighted to see Singlish appear in DC comics. Comics, like literature, are becoming increasingly diverse, and often multilingual. This is good; it represents the realities of a global culture. However, there are still some issues with how Singlish was portrayed.

The man speaking Singlish was pretending to be an idiot to get in with a crime lord. He used Singlish when in disguise, and standard English when being himself. Singlish, then, is associated with stupidity and a lack of education. Many non-standard dialects of English suffer this stereotype, because standard English is often considered "proper", best for education, or "correct". It is none of these things. A standard variety is useful for many reasons - communicating across varieties, writing academic papers that are meant for as broad an audience as possible, etc. - but non-standard varieties should not be considered inferior, nor indicative of intellegence or education. In fact, in future, i believe that most speakers of English will be able to operate across spectrums of English; using local varieties for everyday conversation, standard English for formal or international settings, and varieties in the middle as the situation requires. Regional varieties are tailored to suit life in the regions they develop in; they often can express things standard English is not suited for. Yet the stereotype remains that non-standard is somehow inferior.

It is great that DC used Singlish in one of its comics. Heck, i'm sure many, if not most, readers were previously unaware of Singlish, and this exposure is wonderful. However, what i'd really love to see are representations that show Singlish is not only the language of goons and that varieties are not something for standard-English speakers to mock or look down on.

i really would like to be pointed towards works of literature written in non-standard Englishes from around the world. suggestions are welcome in comments.

(i have read rather extensively on global/world Englishes. if interested in further reading, David Crystal is an author i'd reccommend as a starting point.)

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